Originally created 08/05/98

Queen Mother celebrates 98th birthday

LONDON -- Britain's beloved Queen Mother Elizabeth celebrated her 98th birthday Tuesday, beaming and waving at the well-wishers camped outside her Clarence House home to give her balloons, bouquets and cards.

The Queen Mother has remained one of the most popular royals, serenely enduring two world wars, the death of her husband, two hip replacements and a cataract operation.

Dressed in sunshine yellow and leaning slightly on a cane, the mother of Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday greeted scores of well-wishers who sang "Happy Birthday, your majesty."

Children stood in line to present gifts, among them 2-year-old Nathaniel Hess of west London, who produced a half-eaten cookie that the Queen Mother laughingly pretended to eat.

Another fan, Steve Marsh, 10, from Camberley, south of London, said, "I hope she's having a very happy birthday. I like her a lot, she's a very cool old lady."

When Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, the Queen Mother and her husband Bertie -- then the Duke and Duchess of York -- were propelled into unwanted sovereignty as George VI and Queen Elizabeth. They saw Britain through the dark days of World War II and reigned until George VI died in 1952, after 29 years of marriage.

Royals may wane and wax in popularity -- witness Prince Charles' role as the villain in the Princess Diana story, or accusations that the queen is a cold and out-of-touch monarch -- but the "Queen Mum" has never fallen out of favor.

She continued to shine despite the scandals that surrounded the breakups of three of her grandchildren's marriages -- Charles, Andrew and Anne -- and the 1976 divorce of her younger daughter Princess Margaret, much of which was played out in lurid detail in Britain's tabloid newspapers.

After a brief "walkabout" Tuesday, the Queen Mother -- still a little shaky from a hip replacement operation earlier this year -- took to a candy-striped golf cart to visit with people in the crowd. She then returned to the stuccoed 19th-century Clarence House as army gunners in nearby Hyde Park let off a celebratory volley of 41 shots.

The Queen Mother made two later appearances outside Clarence House with other royals, including her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, and some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The family had lunch together at Clarence House.

Many admirers camped out overnight to be sure of seeing the Queen Mother on her special day.

"I've been looking forward to it more and more each year. It has become an obsession," said Jennifer Hawkins, a 49-year-old nurse from suburban London who was first in line after staking out her place Sunday morning.

"She looked radiant," Ms. Hawkins said. "If you asked anybody how old she was, they would never guess her age."


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